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A Caribbean island where the surf rolls in on tranquil beaches and the art of doing absolutely nothing has been perfected to the satisfaction of connoisseurs : ST. CROIX

July 20, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

ST. CROIX, U.S. Virgin Islands — John Brooks, who heads the theater department at the University of Chicago, told his travel agent to book him into a resort with "absolutely nothing to do."

His suitcase was packed with unread books, and he lusted for tranquillity. Brooks explained that he loathes discos and the regular resort routine. His wish was simple: a quiet beach where he could soak rays, recharge his soul and be bothered by no one.

No problem, said the travel agent, and he booked the professor into the King Frederik Hotel facing one of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean.

The King Frederik is one of those funky, laid-back places the tropics is famous for. With a handful of rooms, it is surrounded by lush gardens, the only distraction being the sunsets, which are said to be unequaled in the Caribbean, what with the hotel facing straight west for an unobstructed view as the fireball extinguishes itself nightly in a performance that sets the horizon aflame while guests watch silently from the little seaside bar.

Bill Owens, an ex-L.A. educator, opened the King Frederik in the '70s. Tired of freeways, crowds and crime, he decided to skip school after discovering this hotel with a 2 1/2-mile beach at the door.

The King Frederik provides simple charms (with the exception of a trifle too much wrought iron botching up views from the patios).

Owens gets a big repeat business, with doubles going for as little as $26 a day in the low season, including a bottle of rum. Designed for self-sufficient vacationers, the King Frederik has no restaurant.

Instead there is a "market run" each day for groceries (guests cook for themselves) and a couple of restaurants (including the Brandy Snifter) that provide free pickups for vacationers preferring to dine off the property.

At this end of the island the idea is to hole up and lose track of the outside world. It's a joke to call Frederiksted a town. Frederiksted is nothing more than a string of clapboard buildings the termites haven't gotten around to attacking yet. But that's the idea. Vacationers choose Frederiksted over tranquilizers.

1650 Great House Welcomes

At the other end of town, Jim and Joyce Hurd welcome guests at Sprat Hall, a Great House dating from 1650. Sprat Hall is big with honeymooners. Six sets of newlyweds arrived in a single day recently. Three huge rooms with four-posters are reserved for nonsmokers. Other guests are assigned cottages spread across the old plantation grounds.

Horses graze on the hillside and the Hurds do candlelight dinners in the great house and serve lunch on the beach--fresh fish, conch and lobsters. Besides snorkeling and sunbathing, guests ride off through rain forests and along the beach. Only don't come looking for night life. Not on this end of the island, anyway.

Between here and Christiansted, which is where the action is, a couple of ex-New Yorkers, Carl and Dulcy Seiffer, preside over Cane Bay Reef Club that's as peaceful as a full moon spotlighting the Caribbean. With only nine units in a two-story frame structure overlooking the sea, it tends to attract lovers and artistic types seeking surcease from the merry-go-round.

One guest described it as a place to write a novel or recover from a broken love affair. Well, why not? Vacationers are lulled by the voice of the sea and a breeze that funnels through the branches of trees rising beside the inn.

Watching the Sunset

Once a week Seiffer turns out a West Indian barbecue while guests gather at a six-stool bar to watch the sunset and the islands of St. Thomas, St. John and Tortola--providing it's clear. And although the inn is directly on the water, it's a five-minute walk to the nearest bathing beach.

Close by, Rockresorts soon will unveil a new property with 158 rooms in villa-like clusters. A cool $2.4 million is being spent on Carambola Beach Resort with its plantation-style construction.

Currently St. Croix's only luxury small hotel is Walter and Robbie Bregman's Cormorant Beach Club. Only five minutes from downtown Christiansted, it is a lifetime removed from city distractions. Bregman, 53, left corporate America to do his act in the Caribbean. As ex-president of International Playtex ("I got fired," he says forthrightly) he sunk his last buck in an abandoned resort, turning a nightmare into a miniature Mauna Lani.

Hammocks stretch between palms. Guest rooms (presently there are 19) are large and airy, the grounds uncrowded. Corporate types swoon. Particularly since the room rate covers everything until 5 p.m.--breakfast, lunch, drinks, tennis, snorkeling and tips. After 5 o'clock, guests are billed for the extras.

Problems Popped Up

For Bregman it's a big switch, operating a resort with 40 employees after presiding over an empire numbering 24,000 on the payroll. Turning from bras (at International Playtex) to bikinis (on his beach) simply wasn't all that simple. Problems popped up. The first night there was no gas. Next it was the water.

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